Meet John Jay's Valedictorian and Salutatorian

This year's top two students are Melissa Grossbarth and Stephanie Riocci.

Among 's graduates next week will be two students with the special distinction of achieving top academic rankings in their class: Melissa Grossbarth is valedictorian and Stephanie Riocci is salutatorian.

They've earned the highest grades but have managed to be active on community, school and sports fronts as well.

Grossbarth, a Goldens Bridge resident who plans on studying statistics at the University of Chicago this fall, is president of Reflections, the school's literary magazine and a member of the mock trial team. She's also tutored middle school students in all subjects for the last for four years and written a student column in the Lewisboro Ledger for the past two year.

She also co-founded and served as team captain of the Challenge Team, an "intelligence quiz bowl" competition on MSGVarsity. She's also a member of the National Honor Society and was named a Rensselaer Medalist. She's worked as a head page at the since the ninth grade.

Riocci's athletic skills match her achievements in the classroom. She is the team captain for John Jay's varsity soccer team which this year made section finals. She's also competed in track since her sophomore year, served as a team captain, achieved the number one state ranking for javelin and has made all section, all-county and all-league in javelin. She's also broken the school's record for javelin throw at 118 feet 2 inches.

Riocci is also a member of the mock trial team and science olympiad team, which this year traveled to a state competition. She's coordinated school blood drives for two years and beat each record for donations each time. She's been a member of Campus Congress for four years. 

Riocci plans to study biological engineering at MIT this fall, following a high school career that included an intensive focus on science research. She worked at Regeneron Pharmeceuticals in Tarrytown and has studied the creation of tools to identify proteins involved in cancer growth.

Patch interviewed both students to get their take on their high school experience and plans for the future.

Patch: Did you imagine you'd be named top students—was it your goal?

Riocci: No. The courses I took were interesting to me—I wasn’t a person who only went for the GPA. I worked hard, did the best I could and it panned out. I found myself working harder when the topics were so interesting. I also managed my time—I did what I wanted to do and didn't let studying get in the way of it, I planned around it. My parents actually told me to do less, but I am happiest when I’m busy and active. Also for me, sports weren't another obligation, it was my time "off" and a big stress reliever. 

Grossbarth: I also took classes because the material was interesting, not because I thought I could get the best grades in that class. I am a bit of a perfectionist—it wasn't about the GPA but I always did the best I could do.  It might sound corny, but I derive fun from challenge of learning. I’m also a list person and complete my to-do lists every day. It was rare for me to turn down time with friends for schoolwork.

Patch: Was there a particular class or academic experience that changed you?

Riocci:  The Science Research Program gave me experience in independent learning. It's a great program and they put the onus on you to make it work. Ann Marie Lipinsky was awesome in guiding me and the program gave me an idea of what I want to do in the future.

Grossbarth: AP Physics B was the most profound class I've ever taken. Mr. Gowanter was the most phenomenal teacher and I had the opportunity to be his lab assistant. He has a way of reading the class energy and knowing how to get through to students. If you needed help he would be there to until you "got it." I had no physics background at all and understood the material because he taught it in a very approachable way. 

Patch: If this was your exit interview, what would you like to see the school district do differently? 

Grossbarth: I'd like them to change AP courses to honors courses with the AP exam being optional. I took 5 AP classes and exams but am only getting credit for two of them. The classes were so great and would be better without the AP exam prepararation.

Riocci: I'd like there to be more of a focus on differentiated learning and have more opportunities for kids to go out and do and study what they are passionate about. A greater diversity in course options offered earlier would be awesome.

Patch: What's your dream job or vision for your future?

Riocci: I hope to be helping people fight cancer. I've always dreamt of being part of that fight. I've known people affected [by the disease] and so many people dealing with it—so I'd be happy working on trying to end it.

Grossbarth: I'd like to be working in a field where going to work doesn't feel like it’s going to work every day. In his career, my Dad knew to switch jobs when he wasn't passionate about what he was doing. So my dream is to be fulfilled and doing work I enjoy.

Patch: Four fun, quick questions. Ready? What's on your iPod, what's your favorite late-night study snack, your favorite book and what comfort item will you bring from home to college?

Riocci: Eminem – I love rap—and I can do it! I've even rapped with the [school female a capella group] Notables. My favorite snack is the classic cookies and milk. My favorite book is Enders Game by Orson Scott Card, and I plan to bring a white teddy bear and my soccer book of memories.

Grossbarth: Music - Tally Hall and Regina Spektor. Snack - Multigrain cheerios, I love them! My favorite book is The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. If I can't bring my mom's cooking, I'll bring a stuffed black lab plushie that I’ve had since fourth grade and a nice stack of hand-drawn cards from friends.


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